Monthly Archives: March 2017

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale 

March 28, 2017

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Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”

Every now and then a book will work its way deep under my skin and continue to whisper to me long after I’ve finished it. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is such a book. It’s a quietly magical and deeply imaginative retelling of a Russian fairytale of demons, superstition, and deep, almost never-ending winter.

In the far north of Rus’ (medieval Russia) on the border of a deep forest, Vasya is a child on the verge of womanhood. From very young she has unselfconsciously defied the roles expected of her and the inevitable life predetermined by her family: a quiet life of marriage and children, of submitting to a husband not of her choosing. Vasya would rather run free in the forest and befriend the household demons everyone else is trying to forget. She thrills to hear her nurse tell stories of Morozko the frost demon, with his blue eyes and unpredictable nature. It is never known whether he will give extravagant gifts or leave wandering souls to freeze to death in the woods.

When Vasya’s father brings home a cold and devout stepmother in an attempt to tame Vasya into a respecatable woman, the household is no longer permitted to pay respects to their household spirits. But Vasya has seen something evil awaken in the woods and can sense that her beloved demons may have an important role in protecting her family and home. At great cost, she defies her loved ones so she can keep them safe.

A little disclaimer – I picked this book up knowing almost nothing about the Russian fairytale of Morozko, or Frost, but I have read a lot of Russian literature and have always been fascinated by the country’s history. This book captures so well the tension of a transitioning country – of leaving ancient gods behind to embrace modern religion. The book is sometimes brutal and terrifying – so convincing were the characters’ battles with madness and fear. But it was also achingly beautiful and left me wanting to learn more about the roots that watered this story.

Vasya was completely delightful to read about. She is brave and spunky and I absolutely loved her ‘burn the patriarchy’ attitude while still daring to love and protect those around her who try to subject her to their expectations. There is very little romance which was quite refreshing, yet there are some tantalizing hints at a future love interest (I won’t spoil it for you but all I can say is I am here and ready for this ship to sail).

The book builds a little slowly at first, setting down rich details that help create the vivid atmosphere of the story. Though slow it may be to start, I never found it dull. I savoured every detail, the masterful writing, the haunting atmosphere. Building tension crescendos to an ending that had me a quite breathless, mouth hanging open, needing so much more. A few events were left untied, yet hint at building out into the books to come.

I’m completely in awe that this was a debut novel by an author whose previous writing experience is not much spoken of. The raw talent poured into this novel is astounding. Arden’s prose is lush and lyrical, while reminiscent of classic literature. The whimsical synopsis suggests YA fantasy, yet the writing style is mature and timeless.

A haunting and vivid story of female empowerment and loyalty, The Bear and the Nightingale is one of my favourite reads in quite a long time and I’m eagerly waiting to get my hands on the sequel, The Girl in the Tower, releasing in December 2017.


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My rating: 5\5 stars

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale 

Author: Katherine Arden 

Publisher: Del Rey, an imprint of Penguin Random House 

Recommended for: those who enjoy fantasy, fairytale retellings, history 

Review: The Bone Season

March 21, 2017

This is a semi-spoiler free review. I’m not giving away any big details but I do divulge information and discuss relationships that are formed well after the first few chapters. 

 

“This was what my spirit longed to do, to wander in strange lands. It couldn’t stand being trapped in one body all the time. It had wanderlust.”



I first read The Bone Season when it was released in 2013 and have read it a few times since so I wanted to finally write a review of this glorious first novel by Samantha Shannon.

Whenever someone asks me for a book recommendation, without skipping a beat I positively shout out, “The Bone Season!” It is so fantastically written with a gripping plot and characters so intensely realized you start to wonder if they are real people. This book didn’t leave my hand for the whole two days I devoured it. Can you picture me holding it, eyes glued to the pages while I poured my morning coffee, fed my cat, drove to work? Okay I’m totally joking about that last part, please don’t read and drive! But my point being that I lived some kind of half life while reading it. I lost myself in the futuristic streets of Scion, the antiquated and dimly lit halls of Magdalen tower in Oxford.

The concept of The Bone Season is so intriguing and I can’t wait to see how it plays out over the projected seven novels in the series. In an alternate future, London, England has been conquered by Scion, a government which has deemed clairvoyance to be the biggest threat to humankind and therefore illegal. Simply by existing, clairvoyants, or voyants, are at the risk of arrest for treason. A Dickensesque syndicate of voyants has retreated to the shadows and the gutters, forging a meager living in the streets and black market. Paige Mahoney is a dreamwalker, a rare type of voyant, and also the right hand to Jaxon Hall, mime-lord to their section of the syndicate.

Paige is suddenly kidnapped and drugged, and wakes up in the lost city of Oxford, kept a secret by the Scion government. The goings on in Oxford prove to be mysterious and sinister when Paige discovers that it is a penal colony where harvested voyants are sent to serve a life long sentance for their crimes by becoming slaves to other worldly creatures, the Rephaim. Their main purpose is to assist the Rephaim in keeping terrifying, flesh-eating creatures called the Emim from crossing into earth from the Netherworld.

The Rephaim believe themselves to be vastly superior to humans and therefore have no qualms about taking on the brutal role of slave master – dealing out verbal and physical violence to their human slaves. Yet one Rephaite, Arcturus, called by his title of Warden, has taken an interest in Paige’s gift and has chosen her to be his sole human ward. He offers a level of protection when Paige’s peers are beat and starving, he trains with her and helps her uncover new abilities with her clairvoyant gift. Cautiously they begin to form an understanding that hints at the possibility of great trust.

I see a lot of complaints about info dumping and a slow moving plot but I really want to talk about how I truly believe this is one of the things that makes this book so deliciously satisfying. The details that Shannon has poured into this novel creates such a rich and whimsical world. The world building and supernatural culture is so fully realized, I find myself falling so deep into this story that I have to give my head a shake to come back to real life.

And the characters. They are quirky and flawed and make shitty choices and struggle to trust each other and are just absolutely wonderful. I have fallen in love with fiery Paige with her sharp and sarcastic Irish tongue. Nick, with his sweetness and loyalty, and that feeling I get that everything is going to be okay when he’s around. Jaxon, I just love to hate. He is unapologetically arrogant and hilariously sophisticated, and so damn interesting. And I can’t forget Warden – quietly powerful and the potential for a very great ally. I hope to find out much more about his character and what goes on under his unruffled exterior.

The romance here is a very small sub-plot but no less grand in it’s sweetness. It’s a slow build. Frustratingly slow sometimes, because we know way before the characters do that it’s inevitable. But it plays out so naturally and beautifully and the tiny moments that we are given are so moving.  In all honesty, they have become one of my favourite fictional pairs ever. 

There is almost nothing bad I can say about this book and I imagine it will be one to read and savour again and again.

Have you started this series yet? What are your thoughts so far?

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Title: The Bone Season

Author: Samantha Shannon

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult, New Adult

6 Strong Literary Women Who Needed No One But Themselves

March 8, 2017

There are some seriously strong women in literature, as well as the wonderful women who write about them. In recognition of International Women’s Day, here are six of my favourite strong female protagonists who prove that they don’t need anyone but themselves.

1. Jane Eyre
“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

Jane Eyre may be small and gentle but in a time when women were expected to have a quiet, small voice, she uses hers to show her self worth and spirit to be equal to men. With a deep-rooted moral code, she doesn’t bend to the will of others even when it wrenches her heart.

 

2. Hermione Granger

“I’ve learned all the course books by heart, of course. I just hope it will be enough – I’m Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?”

Hermione has been one of my favourite female characters since she introduced herself with wild hair and self-confidence. While at first considered annoying by her classmates, Hermione is not afraid to be exactly who she is: clever and discerning and a lover of knowledge. She made it okay for teenage girls to value intelligence and good grades, to care about social justice and change.

 

3. Anne Shirley
“People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?”

Anne Shirley – unselfconsciously speaks her mind and unafraid to stand up for herself. She is imaginative, ambitious, and smart, with a temper as red as her hair.

 

4. Katniss Everdeen

“No one will forget me. Not my look, not my name. Katniss. The girl who was on fire.”

She is a masterful huntress, an uncomplaining caregiver, a survivalist. Because of her strength, a revolution was inspired in her name. She chooses love, not because it saves her, but because it compliments her.

 

5. Jo March
“I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle, something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten afdon’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all some day. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous, that would suit me, so that is my favorite dream.” 

Jo March from Little Women is smart and argumentative, and doesn’t buy into the gender roles of her day. She cuts off all her hair, she speaks her mind, and doesn’t need a romantic relationship with her best male friend, because she has plans for her own life.



6. Paige Mahoney 

“My father thought I would lead a simple life; that I was bright but unambitious, complacant with whatever work life threw at me.

My father, as usual, was wrong.”

One of my favourite recent books, The Bone Season, features Paige Mahoney, a sarcastic and defiant clairvoyant with an Irish temperment in a futuristic dystopian setting. She looks her frightening enemies in the eye and refuses to cower before them. She is resourceful and clever, a natural problem solver. I adore everything about this complex firecracker of a woman.

 

So here’s to the fictional women that show us that it’s okay to speak our minds, to say no, to respect ourselves, to be complete and whole people even when single, to kick ass. May there be many more to come.

I’d love to hear about which female characters have inspired you! Who would you add to this list?

Review: Caraval 

March 2, 2017

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“Welcome, welcome to Caraval! The grandest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more wonders than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you fully enter into our world, you must remember it’s all a game.” 

My rating: 4/5 stars

I normally handle hyped up books with caution – perhaps because I’m cynical or don’t want to be let down, probably both. But Caraval was unexpectedly and completely captivating. I was pleasantly surprised by this bedazzling debut by Stephanie Garber and her ability to draw me right into this magical, emotionally intense story.

Scarlett and Donatella are sisters who live on a fictional island reminiscent of the Mediterranean in a Victorian-style era. They are brutally governed by a tyrannical father who physically abuses whichever sister is not the transgressor in order to maintain ultimate control over them. Every year of her childhood, Scarlett has dreamed of escaping their father to go to a traveling live fantasy performance called Caraval, where participants can play a game to win a magical prize or simply stay to experience the wonders as a spectator.

However, Scarlett has grown up and moved on from her dream, and is looking forward to her upcoming arranged marriage when she and her sister are finally invited to partipate in Caraval. Despite Scarlett’s hesitation, her sister whisks Scarlett away to the show and when they arrive, Donatella suddenly disappears. Scarlett soon realizes that to win the game designed by the mysterious mastermind, Legend, she must find her sister before any of the other participants do. She is assisted by an unlikely accomplice, a self-assured and handsome sailor, Julian, who seems to have some secrets of his own.  The game quickly turns dark and dangerous and Scarlett realizes Caraval may be nothing like the place of wonder she imagined as a child.

I still feel a little dizzy after finishing this book. There were so many unexpected twists and turns and even though the characters (and therefore us, the readers) are warned again and again that it is all just a game, that nothing is as it seems, I still couldn’t help myself from trying to predict the ending. And oh, did this book ever make a fool out of me. Every time I thought I knew how it was going to end I was shortly proven wrong, which is really so refreshing in a world of predictable storylines.

Garber’s writing style was engaging and fluid, keeping me immersed in the story page after page. Every sentance radiated poetry and whimsy. At times I felt the pacing trudged a little only to pick up again without warning, very much in the way one experiences a dream. I actually think it added to the bizarre and dreamlike atmosphere of the book.

The characters were likeable and believable – Scarlett in particular is a realistic example of a victim of domestic abuse. Her hesitation at taking risks and the way she craves stability and protection are direct results of her father’s physical violence and cruelty. Through mind-bending and heartbreaking trials, Scarlett begins to show an inner strength and independence she didn’t know she had. There is romance in abundance but it’s developed slowly and naturally, and in my opinion, the best romances always take their sweet time.

At times devastating, this book dashed me to pieces and put me back together again. And again. After a tense climax I was brought to a satisfying sense of closure and a delicious hint of more to come. Caraval will definitely be a reread in the future and I look forward to catching the subtleties I may have missed the first time.